Opinion: Mythology lies behind the modern Thanksgiving holiday
"The essential mythology of the contemporary Thanksgiving holiday is based on what appeared to be amicable relationships between the Wampanoags led by the Massasoit and the first generation of Pilgrims in Plymouth. The realities of the first encounter and the long history of subsequent violence and discrimination suffered by Native people across this Great Turtle Island (what is now called the United States of America) has been ignored or inaccurately represented.

America has attempted to right some of these wrongs, as have the other nations whose indigenous peoples suffered the same or similar fates, such as Canada and Australia. Canada has ceded to its indigenous population a huge autonomous territory, Nunavit, while Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has formally apologized to its aboriginal population. In 1998, President William J. Clinton signed an official proclamation designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month. The proclamation urges Americans, as well as their elected representatives at the federal, state, local and tribal levels to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.

American Indians and their allies who commemorate Thanksgiving as a “Day of Mourning” do not advocate abolishing the cherished American holiday. It was after the declaration of a war of independence by General George Washington and his comrades that really nudged this forward as an expression of national unity and purpose to rally the American troops against the English king. And with a war to fight, constitution to write and a busy nation-building agenda he did not get around to declaring it a holiday until 1789; 168 years after the “first” Thanksgiving.

Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War was so desperate to win that he “freed the slaves” and declared Thanksgiving both in the same year right in the middle of the war. His Thanksgiving Proclamation said that forever more, the last Thursday of November would be devoted to this celebration that was, by that time fairly confounded about date, place and purpose. Then it was World War II and the depression that brought Thanksgiving close to its present status. We were again in the middle of a major war and an economic collapse when in 1939, 1940 and 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt tried to unify the nation (and extend the Christmas shopping season to get the economy rolling) proposed that Thanksgiving should be on the third Thursday in November, Congress approved but designated the fourth Thursday instead.

American Indians do ask that America face its history with a candor and compassion that admits and honors the truth of what really happened to the New England Indians, the first who encountered the Europeans in North America. "

Get the Story:
Julianne Jennings: Indian massacre or mythology? (Indian Country Today 11/23)